Ensemble Tumbash
Ayalguu: Vol. I
(Face Music Switzerland, 2000)

The quartet Ensemble Tumbash presents a collection of 38 Mongolian bogino duu (or "short songs") on Ayalguu: Vol. I. To quote the liner notes, "Bogino duu is a short song that is strophic, syllabic and rhythmically tied, and it is sung without ornaments." These songs are improvised and take as their subject matter love, everyday life and animals. Given the importance of horses in Mongolian culture, it's no surprise that they are favorite topics for these short songs. The whole collection runs over an hour.

Ensemble Tumbash (which takes its name from an Indian folktale about four different animals that work together in harmony) presents these songs as instrumental pieces. A synopsis of each tune's subject is given in the liner notes, but it would be nice to see some translations of lyrics or to hear at least some of the songs sung. The musicians are Ts. Batgerel on morin khuur (two-stringed horsehair violin), S. Sarangerel on shudraga or shanz (a sort of lute), Z. Selenge on yoochin (zither) and Ch. Enkhjargal on limbe (flute).

To someone unfamiliar with Mongolian music, the immediate comparison springing to mind will probably be Chinese music. The combination of flute and string instruments has a Chinese feel. The CD covers a wide range of moods, which keeps it from getting monotonous, but any long album of music like this can't help turning into background music for those not specifically interested in its subject. It is very pleasant background music, though, with the flute and strings giving a bright and often lively feel to the music. Sometimes (as on "Tsokhiuryn ai"), there is a mandolin-like sound; this comes from the shudraga, which needs to have its strings struck repeatedly to hold a single note.

Listening to the music while reading the liner notes shows that a song's subject is often reflected in the sound of the song. "Mogoi kheer," for example, is a song about a racehorse and one can hear the rhythm of galloping hooves (and even neighing!) in the strings. The song is topped off with a sample of a real horse galloping, but the music makes the point all by itself and such sound effects are rare on the album.

This may be more Mongolian music than most people need in their music collections, but it is an enjoyable album that will surely urge some to dig deeper into bogino duu and Mongolian music in general..

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 2 October 2004